Kolchak: The Night Stalker

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Welcome to day eleven of the A to Z Bloggers Challenge! Thank you for reading! Today we’ll take a look at the 1970s short-run, but oh so fun news reporter, Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) who somehow managed to find every strange creature and event in Chicago for the Independent News Service in the supernatural television series Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

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Darren McGavin as Kolchak: The Night Stalker

Carl Kolchak investigates mysterious crimes. He is particularly drawn to crimes that have unlikely causes and appears to the local law enforcement to be a bit ridiculous because he insists on pursuing crimes that they believe are solved. Kolchak, however, is a careful investigator and always finds some piece of evidence pointing to the possibility that there is a supernatural cause for the event.

Kolchak’s character as a reporter is a bit cliched. He drives a sharp-looking yellow Mustang and is always dressed in the same wrinkled suit that looks like he sleeps in it. He wears a reporter’s hat and sometimes has a racing ticket or note in the band. He has a knack for getting the “exclusive” on a story as he is always shown with both his camera and cassette tape recorder, but he often has to try quite a few times throughout the show to catch the evidence he needs because he is so often shocked into dropping his camera or running for his life.

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Kolchak always solves the crime by exposing some supernatural cause of the crime,but his evidence mysteriously disappears. 

Once he manages to obtain the required evidence it inevitably disappears, along with some local official who is also involved in the story. Thus, the story remains unsolved and only Kolchak and the government know the truth–that the crime was committed by an alien, a zombie, a werewolf, or witch. Kolchak also encounters mummies; Satan; ghosts; the Headless Horseman; Jack the Ripper; a prehistoric man; Helen of Troy; and others that I can’t remember now, but they were certainly scary in 1974!

Quirky Characters

In addition to strange creatures, Kolchak was also forced to deal with some quirky characters on the show, both allies and enemies, or those who aren’t so helpful. In the not-so-helpful category we find Kolchak’s editor, Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland) resembles the cliched angry police lieutenant who is constantly arguing with Kolchak about his questionable investigative techniques. These arguments end with Vincenzo ranting about his blood pressure or stomach problems. Kolchak must also cope with the insults and harassment of Captain Mad Dog Siska (Keenan Wynn), the local police officer whose temper and lack of patience rivals that of Vincenzo. And of course, Kolchak has a competing reporter at INS who is his foil, his complete opposite. Ron Updyke (Jack Grinnage) does not wear the same suit every show. He is a sharp dresser who plays the French horn.

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Keenan Wynn in a trailer screenshot from Annie Get Your Gun. Wynn plays Captain Mad Dog Siska in Kolchak: The Night Stalker, an irritable police captain who finds Carl Kolchak annoying. 

In the helpful category of characters we find another INS employee is Emily Cowles (Ruth McDevitt) who write the column “Miss Emily.” Emily is Kolchak’s ally. She believes in him, which doesn’t do much for his career as her job is to write puzzles and offer advice to the elderly, but they do have a strong relationship. Monique Mamelstein (Carol Ann Susi), an INS intern who got the job through her Uncle. She is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism, but everyone believes the only reason she’s with the INS is her uncle. There is also Gordy “The Ghoul” Spangler (John Fiedler) who works at the morgue and assists Kolchak in finding some of the morbid pieces of evidence.

How the Show Began

Contrary to what one might think, Kolchak: The Night Stalker was not cancelled due to low ratings, but the usual nasty television politics. Kolchak was originally a character in a novel that remained unpublished until after the show was released.

Kolchak’s character influenced two made for TV films that were combined to create the television show: The Night Stalker, which aired in 1972 and also starred McGavin as a Las Vegas reporter tracking a vampire; and The Night Strangler, 1973, which again stars McGavin as a reporter stalking a chemist who kills women for their blood.

An Unhappy Star Brings a Quick end to Kolchak

Kolchak: The Night Stalker was cancelled after only one year. The series aired at 10 p.m. on Friday nights, which was bad timing for older teenagers interested in horror, but perfect for kids like me who would sneak out of bed after our parents were sleeping and watch late night TV. Darren McGavin was unhappy with the show, though. He was given a tremendous responsibility for the show including work as the show’s producer, work that he was not paid for and finally refused to continue, which brought the show to an end. Frankly, I think the politics in Hollywood are ridiculous. This show could have continued for years and built a huge fan following if they had aired it at a decent hour and given McGavin the support–and financial compensation–he required.

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Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak

However, this was not the end for Kolchak! Kolchak is occasionally seen on reruns on the Sci-Fi Channel and sometimes appears on the Chiller channel, as well. In 2005 the show was revived for a short time. It also spawned fiction books and a comic book. The show has numerous fan pages and fans frequently credit Kolchak: The Night Stalker with influencing the creator of The X-Files, Chris Carter. According to the Screen Spy blog, Walt Disney Productions plans to revive the character of Kolchak starring Johnny Depp, which would be so cool!

Source:

  • Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Creator: Jeffrey Grant Rice. Perf. Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Jack Grinnage. Universal TV Productions. Running Time: 51 min.

Comments

  1. DarlaSueDollman says:

    Yes, they are rather strange characters! When I first started writing reviews for supernatural television shows I was surprised by their popularity. Since the start of the trend in the 1960s (which I will write about later) the number of supernatural television shows has grown tremendously. An interesting trend I’ve noticed, though–the networks tend to cancel them early in spite of high ratings, but the fans keep them alive with fan clubs and demands for reruns. Eventually, I think the networks will start listening to their viewers and give them what they want, but who knows. Hollywoood always has been more focused on the money than the viewers.

  2. DarlaSueDollman says:

    Hi Bob. I’m finding through my research that very few shows are cancelled due to their ratings. In fact, two of my favorites–Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies–had surprisingly high ratings. As I commented above, there’s no end to the reasons networks come up with for cancelling shows. Sometimes shows are cancelled because a new program director comes on board and he doesn’t want the network to be known for the successes of the old program director. It’s a fickle business, that is certain. Thank you for reading!

  3. I know of this show because of my fandom for The X Files, like you mentioned already. Then The X- Files influenced Fringe, and possibly Lost and a ton of other shows. It’s interesting to trace that trail back to the origins.

    I also like the idea of Johnny Depp reviving a character like this.

  4. DarlaSueDollman says:

    Stephanie, I had no idea X-Files influenced Fringe. I agree–it’s fun to trace the origins of a show, and I also like the idea of Johnny Depp playing this role. I can see him in my mind! Lol!

    I’ve mentioned this before, but I really do enjoy chatting with other fans of supernatural television and if you ever want to guest post about the X-Files that would be great. If you have a website you could discuss that in your post, too. Just let me know, and thanks for reading!
    Darla Sue

  5. Jim says:

    I loved the show so much it made a cosplayer out of me. I’ve got the suit, the camera, the recorder, and the HAT. : )